Arguing With a Full Stomach
In 2009, according to the Cato Institute, the USDA spent nearly two-thirds of its budget, some $79 billion, on food subsidies. Food stamps (now a debit card-type device); the school breakfast and lunch programs; and the women, infants, and children (WIC) program constituted the bulk of the expenditures. If the words “subsidies” or the “Cato Institute,” have pushed a hot button for you, please don’t get ahead of me here.
Our largest personal expenses each year are housing, transportation, and food. According to the U.S. Department of Labor the amount spent is 34, 18, and 12.5 percent, respectively.
We truly take for granted how low our expenditures are for what we eat. Almost half of the 12.5 percent we spend is for food we eat outside of our homes. By contrast, residents of Sudan, India, and the Philippines, spend more than half of their entire household budget for food and almost always at home. In Central and South America it’s around 40 percent of a household’s entire annual income.
Developed countries enjoy higher per capita incomes but that only explains part of the advantages. The Swiss have the highest per capita personal income yet we pay far less that they do for food. The U.S. is also not as dependent on imported foods as others are.
Perhaps the greatest luxury we enjoy with our safe, abundant, and inexpensive food supply (thanks in part to veterinary medicine) is our ability to argue with a full stomach. Debates about animal rights, whether tethering dogs is humane, how much room chickens need, is it time for my dog’s dental, are dairy cows suffering, declawing cats, and are we chattel property owners or guardians of our animals, don’t happen much in places panged with hunger and thirst. Especially in areas where people have a lifespan of less than 38 years and where 20 percent of all infants perish.
More importantly, when looking at developing countries, the impact of poorer quality food, less of it, and at a higher price exacerbates the overall lack of everything else in their societies, not just money or nutrition.
The next time we eructate and taste that great lunchtime burger or spiced tofu sandwich again while arguing the green footprint of leather versus plastics all while driving to the gym, consider those without shoes who will “do four miles,” on foot not to burn off excess calories, but to get a gallon allocation of potable water for their families.